MLS' MVP race: Who can stop El Guaje's back-to-back run?

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Who is Major League Soccer's 2017 MVP? Here are our top five contenders as the stretch run unfolds.

There are always going to be a few snubs, so let’s acknowledge that the Chicago Fire went from perhaps a couple MVP candidates on the ballot to its players slipping off entirely.

It’s difficult to distinguish a team MVP – is the goalscorer Nemanja Nikolic, or the valuable Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Is it David Accam and his game-changing ability, or the leadership of Dax McCarty?

As a result, a guy who can prove this projection right has snuck on to the board. If Atlanta’s biggest star plays the way he has all season, this prediction may end up being too low.

5. Miguel Almirón, Atlanta United

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The dynamic playmaker has been a jack of all trades for Atlanta this season, keeping it afloat and in the playoff hunt even after the long-term injury to forward Josef Martínez. Almirón can play on the wing or underneath the striker, and he’s the most difficult player to defend for MLS opponents taking on the expansion side.

The 23-year-old Paraguayan has eight goals and nine assists this season in just 22 games. If he can continue that production through a heavy road stretch in September, Almirón will have earned MVP consideration and perhaps the Newcomer of the Year honor.

4. Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

This may be too low for the Argentine, especially if he keeps up his blazing-hot form to push the Impact into the playoffs. Piatti remains one of the few players in MLS capable of changing a game by himself, and now that Montreal has put a bit of talent, youth and energy around him in the midfield, the Impact has put itself right in the middle of the playoff race.

Piatti has been fantastic this season, racking up 14 goals and four assists in just 19 games. That includes six goals in the last four games, and if that form keeps rolling, Piatti may push himself further up the list in the MVP conversation.

3. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I get it. There are a ton of stars on Toronto FC. But watching this team, it’s obvious that Bradley is at the center of everything for the best team in MLS.

He starts almost every attack. He covers ground defensively. He is the leader on the field and the heart of the team off it.

If you take Bradley off of this team, it’s probably still a contender in the East, but I don’t think it’s a team that would be in line to win a treble and perhaps set a record for most points in the season.

The presence of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez is the biggest knock on Bradley, but he deserves to be in the conversation.

2. Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Timbers’ spotty form over the last couple months may be threatening a fantastic campaign by their star player, but as long as the Timbers stay in the playoffs and Valeri continues to lead the charge, he’s the biggest threat to the first back-to-back MVP campaigns in the history of the league.

Valeri has been class, and he has 14 goals and nine assists so far this season, one goal off a career high in MLS and five assists from his best mark with Portland.

Valeri might somehow be underrated in this league, but those who know MLS best know just how good he is, and how good of a season he has enjoyed with Portland.

1. David Villa, New York City FC

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry, Preki. You’re not the only two-time MVP in the history of MLS anymore. It’s a runaway for the NYCFC striker, who continues to light up MLS. He also continues to be the most important player on the field for a legit MLS Cup contender.

A lot of credit goes to Patrick Vieira, who has put together a solid squad around Villa. But if you take the Spaniard out of the lineup, there is no way NYCFC is a threat to Toronto FC.

He is the current golden-boot leader with 19 goals, and he’s added eight assists to push NYCFC to second place in the East.

Villa is the goal for what every DP signing should be in MLS, and he’s going to take home a second consecutive MVP trophy to put himself in the conversation as the very best signing in MLS history.